It’s never too early to talk about deer licenses

It seems always to catch us by surprise when the deadline for sending for antlerless license permits is nearing.

But here it is: County treasurers statewide will begin accepting antlerless license applications from Pennsylvania residents on July 8. Non-residents can apply starting July 29. Beginning Aug. 5, treasurers will begin selling the remaining unsold licenses for any wildlife-management unit for which licenses remain available. A second round (formerly called bonus tags) of unsold license sales will begin Aug. 19. However, the long-standing tradition of limiting applications to three per envelope remains in place for all applicants.

Which means of course that you must purchase a new hunting license for the upcoming year before you can apply for any special license, especially for the doe licenses, and they are on sale now.

Every year scores of hunters let this deadline slip by in the heat of family reunions, picnics, baseball games, fishing, boating and a hundred other activities. This year, in the midst of the uncertainty about Chronic Wasting Disease which is entrenched in our area, many hunters will be opting not to get antlerless tags in this WMU and will be flooding other WMU’s with applications.

While wildlife personnel are assuring us that the disease does not transfer from deer to human, many are still fearful. And Blair and surrounding counties will have strict rules in place this year concerning reporting any deer to a check station for examination that is taken in our WMU. There will be much more coming up about that later.

June is the perfect month for the live bait fisherman; the streams are at good water levels, thanks to the recent rains. The Orvis crowd is out now too, plying the streams with their wondrous imitations of live bait. Fly-fishing is an art, true, but so is bait fishing after the first couple weeks of season.

Any fisherman knows fish are certainly opportunists, gorging on whatever is hatching or floating to the surface. Most any kind of natural bait catches trout. So it’s time to get the 4- or 6-pound monofilament reeled onto the spinning reel and get to it. Garden worms are still the trout’s eternal food preference.

Presentation is the key to success for both fly and bait anglers. Trout lie facing upstream at their feeding stations watching for food. Anything washed into or floating in the water or just under the surface will attract a trout’s attention. But a bug or worm weighed heavily down with sinkers or bb shot that plunks into the water will not attract a trout. That kind of presentation is not natural.

I’ll never forget some years ago as I stood along the shore of a local stream casting a crayfish I had unearthed from under a rock to a pool on the other side of the stream. There was a high dirt bank behind me but I was so lost in my own casting I was startled when something plopped loudly into the middle of the very pool I was fishing!

I looked up to see a husband and wife team, casting over my head from the top of the bank behind me. They had spinning rods and were fishing worms. They had tied a large bobber on the line a foot above the worm. Not only were they plopping these rigs loudly into the water, they were pulling them upstream, against the current. I’ve seen a lot of sights in my day but I have yet to see garden worms swimming upstream.

Whatever natural bait you use take time to learn how it really behaves when it drops into the water. Even salmon eggs, when free-floating, float differently then they do when they are hooked. When you approach one of those long, flat holes where you can see trout lying and you cast your eggs or worm into the hole and the trout let them float by without moving, try this: toss an egg or two into the water and watch how they float. Watch how the trout go after them. Now adjust your sinkers and slack line to make your eggs or worm behave in the water as much like free-floating as possible.

Fishing gear that is too heavy for the bait being used is the biggest detriment to the natural float of small natural baits. I’ve seen anglers using rigs on small trout streams that should be reserved for Lake Erie salmon. Fourteen pound test line and No. 4 hooks are simply not needed to catch trout on most streams especially in mid-summer.

Once you start paying attention it is nothing short of amazing the variety of worms, beetles, grubs and snails you can unearth from under logs, rocks and tree bark. Of course, once in awhile you’ll unearth a snake or two so be alert for that. Don’t stick you hand in places you haven’t checked out carefully. Sometimes finding stuff to use for bait can be harder than catching the fish.

One year every tree along the stream was alive with some kind of black beetles crawling up and down the trunks. I had no idea what they were but I caught a couple in my hands and tossed them onto the current and just watched. Trout swirled to the surface and inhaled them and when I impaled them on a #16 hook a foot below a mini-bobber, I caught my limit shortly.

Whenever fishing is slow, I start trying to figure out what is dropping into the water naturally that they are feeding on. If you can discern that and gather some of whatever it is and use it for bait, you’ll have a bonanza.